This is something that many people who don’t understand missile defense think until they realize the physics behind it:
U.S. President Donald Trump has said Japan should have shot down the North Korean missiles that flew over the country before landing in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year, diplomatic sources have said, despite the difficulties and potential ramifications of doing so.
The revelation came ahead of Trump’s arrival in Japan on Sunday at the start of his five-nation trip to Asia. Threats from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development programs were set to be high on the agenda in his talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday.
Trump questioned Japan’s decision not to shoot down the missiles when he met or spoke by phone with leaders from Southeast Asian countries over recent months to discuss how to respond to the threats from North Korea, the sources said.
The U.S. president said he could not understand why a country of samurai warriors did not shoot down the missiles, the sources said. [Japan Times]
You can read more at the link, but the reason is quite simple why the missiles were not shot down. The missile were flying 770 kilometers above the country in outer space; this is higher than the international space station. The Japanese Aegis ships and Patriot interceptors cannot engage missiles flying that high. To shoot down the missiles the Aegis ship would have to be located out in the ocean where the missile was coming down at. There is no way the Japanese would could have known when and where North Korea was going to fire the missile at to have a ship sitting there waiting to shoot it down.
The real story here is why are diplomatic sources leaking this information to the news media? This is a natural question that many people wondered initially after North Korea fired the missile over Japan. I would hope by now someone has briefed President Trump on missile defense capabilities.
The article is bias with some inaccurate information from someone who is anti-missile defense, however it repeats something I have said before that the US and Japan cannot shoot down North Korea’s missiles unless you know where they are going. This is because the Aegis system the US and Japan has do not shoot down missiles on the boost phase which is what a missile traveling over Japan is at. These ships defend the territory of Japan if the missile was to come down on it in the terminal phase of flight. It is the same for the THAAD system, unless the missile is coming down on South Korea or on Guam in its terminal phase the THAAD systems in each of those locations cannot shoot down North Korea’s missiles:
The number one reason we don’t shoot down North Korea’s missiles is that we cannot.
Officials like to reassure their publics about our defense to these missiles. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga toldhis nation after last week’s test, “We didn’t intercept it because no damage to Japanese territory was expected.”
That is half true. The missile did not pose a serious threat. It flewover the Japanese island of Hokkaido, landing 3700 km (2300 miles) from its launch point near North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang.
The key word here is “over.” Like way over. Like 770 kilometers (475 miles) over Japan at the apogee of its flight path. Neither Japan nor the United States could have intercepted the missile. None of the theater ballistic missile defense weapons in existence can reach that high. It is hundreds of kilometers too high for the Aegis interceptors deployed on Navy ships off Japan. Even higher for the THAAD systems in South Korea and Guam. Way too high for the Patriot systems in Japan, which engage largely within the atmosphere.
All of these are basically designed to hit a missile in the post-mid-course or terminal phase, when it is on its way down, coming more or less straight at the defending system. Patriot is meant to protect relatively small areas such as ports or air bases; THAADdefends a larger area; the advanced Aegis system theoretically could defend thousands of square kilometers. [Defense One]
You can read more at the link.
After all the months of drama in regards to this issue, the THAAD launchers are finally in:
U.S. military vehicle moves as South Korean police officers try to block residents and protesters who oppose to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, in Seongju, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017.
I guess the next concern from USFK will be whether the road to the THAAD site will remain open or is this a one time police presence to open the road? If so the helicopter resupplies to the site will have to continue:
Thousands of South Korean police were deployed near the THAAD site, which is in a remote southeastern area of the country, to clear the way for the U.S. convoy carrying the four additional launchers and other equipment on Thursday.
Scuffles broke out when hundreds of protesters tried to block the path to the former golf course that now houses THAAD. Local health and fire officials said dozens of people suffered mostly minor injuries.
The defense ministry said that, despite the protests, the THAAD deployment was completed.
Officials stressed it was a “tentative” measure resulting from the urgent threat posed by North Korea and a decision on maintaining THAAD will be made after a full environmental impact assessment is completed. [Stars & Stripes]
You can read more at the link.
This expected purchase of an Aegis Ashore system seems to make sense considering it can provide a persistent missile defense capability for Japan without having to rotate in and out their current Aegis BMD ships:
Japan is planning to deploy a new U.S.-developed ground-based missile defense system.
The Defense Ministry is to provisionally request that the fiscal 2018 budget cover planning costs for installing the Aegis Ashore system, according to a ministry official. “We are being urged to enhance our capabilities to continually protect the entirety of Japan from the threat of a missile attack,” the official said. (……)
Japan’s Defense Ministry has studied whether to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system or the Aegis Ashore shield. But it has not planned for Aegis Ashore installations. The system is not included in the current National Defense Program Guidelines or mentioned in mid-term defense planning documents. The official said Aegis Ashore plans will be finalized by the end of the year. [Asian Review]
You can read more at the link.
RAND researcher Bruce Bennett explains why South Korea needs the THAAD missile defense system:
There were many reasons for the deployment of THAAD in Seongju, the location chosen for the THAAD battery in South Korea. One leading reason: In a major Korean conflict, tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel would deploy to Korea over time largely through the Pusan port area in southeastern Korea. They would be most vulnerable to a North Korean nuclear weapon attack while in the port area and while assembling to depart from Pusan. Not protecting exposed military personnel from the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapon threat would be irresponsible, the United States concluded.
By placing THAAD in Seongju, the U.S. can also attempt to protect the large South Korean urban areas of Pusan, Kwangju, Pohang, and Daegu, as well as many other cities in the southern part of South Korea. During a U.S. military deployment to protect South Korea, a North Korean nuclear weapon detonating on Pusan might kill thousands of U.S. military personnel arriving in Pusan, but it could also kill a 100,000 or so South Koreans. With this THAAD placement, the United States is trying to prevent such an outcome. [Korea Times]
You can read more at the link, but one of the arguments often used by anti-THAAD activists is that the system is there to protect US troops not Koreans. This argument has always been one of the stupidest considering that if a missile with a nuclear weapon is fired at a US military base the explosion and destruction is not limited to the US military base; the whole city would be destroyed.
I would not be surprised if the Moon administration is trying to appease the US and the Korean right by saying they are approving the deployment of four additional THAAD launchers while not actually letting them on the site because of the blockade built by protesters. This in turn would appease their left wing base by not letting the launchers on to the site:
A Defense Ministry official here said Tuesday, “The deployment of additional launchers will be handled through a transparent process. That entails convincing local residents and notifying them beforehand of the deployment.” He added, “That means we will not deploy them by surprise in the middle of the night as the first two THAAD launchers were in Seongju in April.”
A Cheong Wa Dae official said, “We will convince local residents and then deploy the THAAD launchers according to the agreement between the defense ministries of both countries.”
But that could take a long time since locals continue to protest. “There is no way that the government will send in riot police to ensure the deployment,” a government source said. [Chosun Ilbo]
You can read more at the link, but what does everyone else think? Does anyone think the protesters will drop their blockade and let the launchers access the THAAD site?
I wonder how much time by President Moon’s staff used thinking of a term to call the deployment of the four remaining THAAD launchers that would still appease their left wing political base?:
President Moon Jae-in speaks during a National Security Council session at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on July 29, 2017, in this photo provided by his office. (Yonhap)
On the liberal Moon Jae-in government’s countermeasures against the latest North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test, the ruling party voiced its consent, but opposition parties called for tougher ones, criticizing the president’s Berlin peace initiative that puts more weight on dialogue with the North than pressure on it.
In an emergency National Security Council meeting convened right after the North’s new ICBM test Friday night, Moon proposed a set of countermeasures, including the temporary deployment of four additional THAAD interceptor launchers, and ordered consultation with the United States on ways to bolster strategic deterrence against the recalcitrant North. The presidential office said later that the provisional deployment does not mean the retraction of a declared environmental impact assessment on the deployment site. [Yonhap]
So basically the Moon administration is doing what the Park administration planned to do with the remaining THAAD launchers without calling it that. What is ironic about this is that the Korea left is supporting President Moon’s decision despite their prior opposition to THAAD.
It looks like missile defense will continue to be a growth industry for US defense contractors:
The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a defense bill calling for increased spending on missile defense programs amid North Korea’s evolving threats.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810) passed 344-81 to order US$696 billion for defense in the fiscal year 2018, including some $12.5 billion for missile defense programs.
“The Committee continues to be a strong supporter of a robust missile defense program given the increasing threats against our homeland and regional allies posed by North Korea, Iran and others,” the House Committee on Armed Services said in a summary of the bill posted on its website. “The bill adds $2.5 billion above the President’s budget request to meet critical missile defense needs. It also recognizes the increasing quantitative and qualitative nature of the ballistic missile threats we face as a nation.” [Yonhap]
You can read more at the link.
The big take away for Korea watchers from this successful flight test of the THAAD missile defense system is that the threat target was an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) which is the same class of missile as North Korea’s Musudan. A THAAD battery was deployed to Guam back in 2013 to defend against the Musudan threat to Guam and this flight test validates its capability to defend against this threat:
The United States said on Tuesday it shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile similar the ones being developed by countries like North Korea, in a new test of the nation’s defences.
Planned months ago, the U.S. missile defence test over the Pacific Ocean has gained significance after North Korea’s July 4 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile heightened concerns about the threat from Pyongyang.
The test was the first-ever of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system against an incoming IRBM, which experts say is a faster and more difficult target to hit than shorter-range missiles.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency said the IRBM was designed to behave similarly to the kinds of missiles that could threaten the United States.
“The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries,” the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement. [Reuters]
You can read more at the link, but the THAAD system has now had 14 of 14 successful intercepts during flight tests.
I think it is important to remember these tests are in a highly controlled environment, but I think without a doubt it does increase confidence in the only system the US currently has to defend against the North Korean ICBM threat:
VANDENBERG AFB, CA – MAY 30: A ground-based interceptor rocket is launched on May 30, 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The rocket from Vandenberg successfully intercepted and destroyed a target missile in space – most likely above waters east of Hawaii that have been temporarily closed to all shipping. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
The Pentagon announced that the United States on Tuesday tested for the first time its intercontinental ballistic missile defense system, a system designed to foil the types of missiles Kim Jong-un and North Korea have been looking to develop.
According to Reuters, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor test took place today at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The test was a success.
“We improve and learn from each test, regardless of the outcome. That’s the reason we conduct them,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said Tuesday. “The system that we test today is a developmental system that’s being flown for the first time and we look forward to understanding the results so we continue to mature the system and stay ahead of the threat.”
While the test is said not to be just about North Korea, the timing indicates that it has everything to do with Kim Jong-un’s recent ballistic missile tests. [Atlanta Journal Constitution]
That is where many in the media are getting it wrong, these tests are planned out and scheduled years in advance. The fact North Korea fired ballistic missiles recently as the Pentagon has said had nothing to do with the timing of the test. Plus this system could not shoot down those missiles anyway. GMD is only used to defend against ICBMs. The shorter and medium range missiles that North Korea has been firing recently would be defended against by the THAAD and Patriot missile defense systems.
You can read more about this history of the GMD program at Defense News.